Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Eric Ziebold: I grew up in Iowa and got a job in a restaurant just to make some money. My mother was a decent cook and dinner was always served promptly at six o’clock. She followed the trends like microwaving and cooking without salt; I think her influence probably made me want to cook, but not necessarily professionally.
AB: Did you attend culinary school? Why or why not? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
EZ: I went to the Culinary Institute of America. When I get an application the first thing I look at is where someone worked. The second thing I look at his how long they worked there. Both questions are important because you get out what you put in.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
EZ: I want to make food that people can identify with and I want them to find it satisfying.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
EZ: Cubeb is a long-tail Indonesian peppercorn with a kick to it. We use it in sauces instead of black pepper and it’s great in pastrami.
AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
EZ: I like strawberry with ginger.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
EZ: My palette knife – I use it instead of tongs for flipping things and it’s great for molding butters.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
EZ: I make an interesting Shabu Shabu variation by poaching foie gras tableside. In a sous-vide variation I cook protein in red wine in Cryovac bags to keep the temperature even.
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
EZ: What is the difference between pressure and stress? The correct answer is preparation.
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
EZ: Taste! People don’t taste enough and it’s a mistake. Cooking is about manipulation. To understand the final product you must taste throughout; otherwise, you won’t understand how you got there.
AB: What are you favorite cookbooks?
EZ: Ma Gastronomie, a recipe book, sure, but it’s also a storybook, and a philosophical glimpse into someone.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
EZ: I like Bangkok for its fruit and ingredients.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path—in your city?
EZ: Pho 75 in Roslyn, Virginia. They serve a simple Vietnamese noodle soup but a million different ways with your choice of fatty brisket, tripe, meatballs and more.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
EZ: I plan to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to help build the restaurant community through encouraging young chefs and helping them get started.